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Big adventure: Munro, Corbett and a wild camp in the Cairngorms

Written by Fiona

March 04 2022

A two-day Cairngroms adventure by public transport to reach a Munro and Corbett summit, with a solo wild camp throw in.

Two-day hiking and wild camp

Descending the mountain Bynack More, situated at the north-eastern edge of the vast and rolling Cairngorms, I surveyed the beautiful landscape.

Autumn’s rich palette of colours was only just starting to fade and the multiple tall peaks all around contrasted dramatically with an ever-changing sky of moving clouds, patches of blue and low sun.

It was 2.30pm and, because it was November, sunset would be in around two hours.

As I stopped, sitting on a large rock for a quick bite to eat and to enjoy the last of my flask of tea, I mulled over my next objective. 

I checked a weather forecast app on my smartphone and worried about the potential for rain the next day. It seemed the wind, already buffeting strength at higher altitude was set to increase at lower levels, too. 

I looked at my map, assessing the route and contours of the neighbouring mountain, Meall a’ Bhuachaille, and I did a few calculations.

This is what makes adventuring in the Scottish mountains in winter both exciting and challenging.

My plan for the two-day trip was to summit both the Munro, Bynack More, and the Corbett, Meall a’ Bhuachaille. I would also camp somewhere near – or potentially in – the bothy on Ryvoan pass, between the two summits.

I was temporarily without a vehicle, so I would be relying on public transport to the nearby town of Aviemore and potentially a lift or two from friends.

I was also prepared to scrap, or reassess, any of the above if the mountain conditions changed suddenly – and dangerously.

However, one of the best parts of the outing, was being able to leave my large rucksack hidden on the lower pass.

In contrast to the relative ease of carrying a pack of summer camping gear, a winter rucksack is a very different, and heavier, item.

I had all I needed for winter mountain walking in a smaller rucksack – and I would reclaim my overnight pack when the time came to camp.

A Munro with friends

The day had started well and with a stroke of luck. Friends, Jane and Denise, from Glasgow were planning a walk on Bynack More so I would be assured of a lift to the start in Glenmore, some seven miles east of Aviemore Railway Station.

This also meant I would enjoy some company on the first mountain. The walk started with a wide track that meanders through Glenmore Forest Park in Strath Nethy amid many fine trees, including majestic Scots pines. 

A highlight is the curious “green loch”, An Lochan Uaine. It’s said the green appearance of is most likely to caused by reflected light from the trees that line it, although a legend has it that the colour is caused by pixies washing their clothes in the loch.

A fork in the track further on is signposted for Braemar, while straight on takes you to Ryvoan Pass, with the potential to walk through Abernethy Forest to Nethy Bridge.

A well-constructed path leads up on to Bynack More. Apart from the final push on the mountain’s steeper northern side, the gradients are fairly gentle.

Fact: A possible translation of Bynack More is “Big Little Mountain” from “beinneag” meaning “little mountain” and More/Mor, which means “big”.

Our ascent was made far more strenuous and chilling due to a strong head and side-wind. From around 2000ft, visibility became limited, too, as the clouds thickened and lowered. 

The obvious path meant it was easy to stay on track, although because we couldn’t see very far ahead the many false summits, each with promising highest point tors of granite, served to repeatedly fool us.

On a fine day, it is worth continuing south from the summit cairn to visit the Barns of Bynack, the name given to huge tors that are claimed as some of the largest in the Cairngorms.

Instead, Jane, Denise and I chose to make a direct return north again, following the same route as the ascent until we were finally below the clouds. It was a wonderful relief to have  tailwind for the descent.

Which brought me to my rock and the contemplation of my grand plan.

The Corbett: Meall a’ Bhuachaille

It would have been simple enough to descend, retrieve my secreted overnight pack, set up camp and save the Corbett for the following day.

Yet, the weather forecast niggled at me and as I left my friends to head north on Ryvoan Pass, as they returned south to their car, I made my decision.

My camp could wait for later – and, in the meantime, I would complete a late afternoon ascent of Meall a’ Bhuachaille.

The eastern path zig-zags steeply from close to Ryvoan Bothy to a high of 2657ft – and it was a great advantage to start at an altitude of 1300ft. 

After a long Munro walk, I could feel my leg muscles groaning but the ever-widening views over the Cairngorms, including Bynack More to the east, as well as more famous Cairn Gorm and its northern corries to the south, were just rewards for the effort. 

Loch Morlich was also easy to spot far below and I knew the lights of Aviemore were not far away, although thickening cloud shrouded most of the western vista.

The cairn, with its large windshelter, loomed up and ahead surprisingly quickly – and I enjoyed the perfect resting spot for more food and water.

I descended by the same route and I momentarily regretted the opportunity to complete the route west and then south back towards Glenmore, but I reminded myself that I’d not needed to carry my heavy overnight pack to the summit.

A peek inside Ryvoan Bothy revealed it was more popular than I’d imagined it would be mid-November and another camper had already set up their tent outside.

Seeking solitude, I wandered off in the dusk to find my own wild camp spot. I knew the wind would be picking up and considered this before erecting my lightweight one-person tent.

Seeking solitude, I wandered off in the dusk to find my own wild camp spot. I knew the wind would be picking up and considered this before erecting my lightweight one-person tent.

Solo wild camp

A winter camp is a mostly needs-must kind of experience and after a quick clothes change, a basic meal cooked on my small stove, there was little to do but tuck myself into a sleeping bag (with a hot water bottle!) and go to sleep.

Apart from waking twice to the sound of the wind swirling noisily in tall trees, I slept well and rose early.

It was a damp morning, as predicted, and although the wind had died a little I decided it was time to head home.

There is a useful path, The Old Logging Way, that provides a safe, off-road route between Glenmore and Aviemore.

The train journey to Inverness takes only about 40 minutes and a text message to a neighbour provided the means to travel the final six miles to my house.

Brilliantly, I arrived back in time to put in half a day of work at my desk. It turned out to be a very satisfying winter micro-adventure, although to exactly as I’d planned. 

Kit list for a two-night hike and wild camp

Overnight camp kit:

  • Large rucksack
  • Tent (suitable for the season)
  • Sleeping bag
  • Inflatable sleeping mat
  • Camping stove
  • Cooking pots
  • Cutlery
  • Food
  • Water
  • Dry clothes
  • Toiletries
  • Walking kit:
  • Smaller rucksack
  • Waterproof jacket and trousers
  • Boots
  • Walking clothes
  • Gloves
  • Hat
  • Walking poles
  • Headtorch
  • Emergency shelter
  • Map and compass
  • Mobile phone

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